You don’t have to love the [Grateful Dead](http://www.rhapsody.com/artist/grateful-dead) to dig [*Day of the Dead*](http://www.rhapsody.com/artist/various-artists/album/day-of-the-dead-album-preview), an epic 59-song tribute compilation meticulously produced and curated over the past five years by brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of [The National](http://www.rhapsody.com/artist/the-national). Featuring nearly six hours of music by an incredible roster of indie rock leaning acts — including Courtney Barnett, The Flaming Lips, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Mumford & Sons, Sharon Van Etten, Wilco, Perfume Genius and many more — the album, released by 4AD, is loaded with all kinds of musical gems, even for those who break out in hives at the very thought of tie-dye headbands. Here are some that we feel deserve your immediate attention.
![The War on Drugs](/content/images/2016/05/The-War-on-Drugs-150x150.png)
The War on Drugs
### [**The War on Drugs**](http://www.rhapsody.com/artist/the-war-on-drugs)**, “Touch of Grey”** The Grateful Dead’s biggest hit came near the tail end of its career in 1987, just a few years before Jerry Garcia passed away, and its overtly commercial sound confounded some fans. On *Day of the Dead*, the War on Drugs reclaims it as the wandering, celestial jam it was always meant to be — giving the composition a hypnotic rhythm, loosening up the arrangement and delivering a sweet Bob Dylan thing with the vocals and harmonica solo. It’s the compilation’s opening track and easiest entry point. ### [**Courtney Barnett**](http://www.rhapsody.com/artist/courtney-barnett)**, “New Speedway Boogie”** Stripped of all the baggage that comes with the Grateful Dead, the songs here take on a life of their own. Australian indie darling Barnett revisits the song Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter penned in reaction to Altamont. You would be hard-pressed to tell it was a relic from the ‘60s as her shambolic, low-key swagger makes the tune sound like it was written in a garage in Melbourne just last week.    

Bonnie Prince Billy
Bonnie Prince Billy
### Bonnie “Prince” Billy, “Rubin and Cherise”

Now here’s something totally unexpected — a full embrace of the Dead’s Dancing Bear spirit from one of rock’s biggest recluses. Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Will Oldham if you prefer) is so into this project that his version of “If I Had the World to Give” almost tops the original. His take on the solo Garcia live staple “Rubin and Charise” is nothing short of ecstatic, punctuated by blasting horns and swelling organs. You can almost feel the confetti raining down as he sings, “If you could see my heart you would know it’s true/ There’s none Cherise, except for you.”

Charles Bradley
Charles Bradley
### Charles Bradley* and Menahan Street Band, “Cumberland Blues” *

The former James Brown impersonator brings a much needed infusion of soul to Day of the Dead, grunting and shimmying through this track from 1970’s Workingman’s Dead. The original version mixed bluegrass and blues. On the new take, the 68-year-old Bradley and his band go full tilt boogie, with guitars that sound like a swarm of bees and sweet and sticky backing vocals. You can’t help but believe him when Bradley howls, “I’ve got to get down!”

Phosphorescent, *Jenny Lewis & Friends, “Sugaree”*

Purists will be drawn to this song, as it keeps close in sound and spirit to vintage Dead. For casual fans it offers a taste of the tight songwriting and easy grooves that made the band so popular without having to go through the cultural haze surrounding it. Former Rilo Kiley singer Lewis’ melancholy harmonies also give the lyrics of love and loss some unexpected emotional heft.

Perfume Genius, *Sharon Van Etten & Friends, “To Lay Me Down”*

It’s very likely that Perfume Genius and Sharon Van Etten never picked up a Dead record until they were invited to join this project — and their contributions here are all the better for it. The sad country lament is dark, dreamy and maybe the only thing that also pays tribute to 4AD’s heritage acts like This Mortal Coil and Red House Painters. On an album where others would have settled for just plain freaky, this is freaking gorgeous.

The National
The National
### The National, “Morning Dew”

There are four tracks by the National, as well as several additional solo performances by its members (who also make up the house band). The Dessner twins, 40, are lifelong Deadheads who started covering the band’s songs at their earliest jam sessions with future National drummer Bryan Devendorf while they were teenagers living in Ohio. What’s remarkable about their take on “Morning Dew” is how they resist giving into reverence, choosing instead to transform the song into a number that would comfortably sit on any of the National’s albums — all moody vocals, stormy guitars and unshakeable gloom. It’s the sound of two worlds colliding and it couldn’t be any better.

The best part? Day of the Dead benefits the Red Hot Organization, which helps support organizations fighting AIDS around the world while inspiring impossibly cool musical collections like Red Hot + Rio, Dark Was the Night and Red Hot + Fela.